'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.' (Genesis 2:15)
In the Eden story, God came to earth in person, for the first time ever, and talked to man, establishing a personal relationship and setting rules. The almighty designer-creator God of the universe coming to man! Almost inconceivable!
The Garden of Eden was a paradise, but not perfect. God said this garden (special place) needed people to work it, presumably because of the normal aging, death and re-birth that was occurring throughout the earth. God placed Adam (already created) into this garden. Satan was already there.
In ancient times – before writing and books – information was transmitted as stories that could be remembered and passed on from generation to generation. Each part of the story was packed with meaning and was explained over and over again by elders to youth, with stern rebuke and correction for even the most trivial deviation. To the ancients, the meaning was the most important part of the story.
See Q&A Garden of Eden for major elements of the story.
God showed up in person and talked to man, establishing a personal relationship. The almighty designer-creator God of the universe! Almost inconceivable!
The Garden of Eden was a paradise, but not perfect. It needed someone to work it, probably because of some death and dying in the course of nature. And Satan was there.
Major themes of the story
This is introduction to major themes in the Bible.
- GOD. Adam existed outside of the Garden, then God moved him into the Garden to take care of it.
- WORK. God gave Adam his first job: name all the animals and birds in the Garden. Humans were created to rule the earth, and naming is the first step in ruling. Apparently Adam followed instructions and did the job well.
- ENCOUNTER. Talk with God.
- ETERNAL LIFE. There were two trees in the center of the Garden: (1) the tree of life and (2) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first was the possibility of eternal life. The second precluded the possibility of eternal life.
- LAW. God gave the first ever divine command (law) to a human, very simple: Don't eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Upon receiving a command from God, man became a moral creature – subject to right and wrong, good and evil – and subject to punishment for disobedience. This was the first covenant law: 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17).
- FAMILY. God gave Adam a wife, and Adam named her Eve (meaning 'mother'); Adam apparently understood female sexuality because he came from outside the Garden where women were giving birth. God created Eve in a special way – not by way of birth from the womb but by way of cloning (one flesh) from the side of Adam ('rib' means side).
- INSTITUTIONS. In Eden God established the first of three institutions for ruling (order instead of chaos): marriage, government and church. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.' (Genesis 2:24)
- SATAN. Satan (in form of a snake) told Adam and Eve that the reason God didn't want them to eat from the tree is that, if they did, they would become like God, knowing good and evil.
- SIN. Eve liked the idea of becoming like God, and she ate fruit from the tree. Adam liked the idea too because he didn't stop her, and he ate the fruit she offered to him.
- VULNERABLE. 'Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves ... and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden' (Genesis 3:7-8). They were now exposed to God's punishment for the worst sin, ignoring God and wanting to be their own god.
- EXCUSES. When confronted by God for this sin, Adam excused it by saying that Eve ('the woman you put here with me') handed him the fruit. Eve excused it by saying that Satan deceived her. The excuses were inadequate. Adam and Eve had each made their own personal and deliberate choice to disobey God and try to become like Him.
- PUNISHMENT. God's punishment was eviction from the Garden, putting them on the outside where life is difficult ('pains in childbearing ... painful toil ... thorns and thistles ... sweat of your brow ...'). (Genesis 2:14-19)
- JESUS. God cursed Satan and said to him, 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers, he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.' (Genesis 3:15) This is a prophetic statement. Eve gave birth to Seth who we now know is in the direct family line of Jesus (see genealogy chart). Satan will harm Eve's offspring, Jesus ('strike his heel'), at the crucifixion approximately 1,400 year later, but Jesus will ultimately destroy Satan ('crush your head').
- REPENTANCE. Apparently Adam (and Eve and family) repented for their sins because later making sacrifices.
- FIRST PRIEST. Adam was first priest, a representative of God. Taught God's requirements to his sons.
- NO SUITABLE WOMAN FOR ADAM. 'But for Adam no suitable helper was found' (Genesis 2:20). There was no spiritual woman, so God created one.
This first story introduces some of the major themes of the Bible: Chosen people ... marriage ... God's law ... desire for other gods ... disobedience ... excuses ... judgment ... punishment ... coming of Jesus ... and missed opportunity for eternal life.
A quick reading of the story indicates that Adam's sin was that he ate forbidden fruit, but a careful study shows that eating the fruit was just the outward manifestation of the real sin. God looks through the action, into the heart, to see the motives.
'You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked [God saw their motive] ...' (Genesis 3:4-7)
Adam's sin was that he wanted to be his own god and follow his own rules, no longer subject to God's rules.
The consequences of Adam's sin are discussed at length in the Bible study here on Romans 5.
Real or myth?
Many Christians believe that the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is a parable rather than actual fact.
Jesus used parables often in his teaching, and people are not troubled by whether or not the event actually happened. Was the Good Samaritan an actual person? The injured man a real person? The words spoken to the innkeeper an exact quotation?
Effective teaching can be accomplished by telling an illustrative story (an allegory) as well by reporting an actual event.
Whether actual event or allegory, the teaching in this story is clear either way. undefined
THE VIEWPOINT ON THIS SITE is that the Garden of Eden was a real place at a real time with real people, for these reasons:
- No clues. The story gives no clues that it is anything other than a historical account.
- Jesus' family tree. The Bible's family tree goes back as far as Eve, where the recorded history begins. The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 (see chart) link the life of Jesus in a whole line of male succession from Eve through Seth, Abraham, Joseph, David, dozens of others, and ultimately to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. It would make no sense for Luke to name real person after real person but have it all start with a mythical person.
- New Testament references. The New Testament refers to Adam extensively in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15 and contrasts him to Jesus. It is clear that this is a contrast between two real persons, not just two literary figures.
- Location. Genesis 2:8-14 describes the location of the 'garden in the east, in Eden' where there are four rivers (Piston, which winds through Havilah where there is gold, aromatic resin and onyx; Gihon, which winds through land of Cush; Tigris, which runs along the east side of Asshur; and the Euphrates.) After six thousand years, the smaller rivers Piston and Gihon are no longer recognizable, but the Tigris and Euphrates are still flowing the course to the Persian Gulf. This seems to be a description of a real place, not a mythical place.
The Eden story is written in the simple way of ancients, not the way we report events today with sophisticated language. Back then, ethereal concepts were often represented symbolically, a type of shorthand:
- Serpent represented evil. There may not have been an actual talking snake, but a strong temptation to violate God's rule.
- God walking in the garden may not have been actual movement on legs and feet, but God's spirit present throughout the garden (can't hide from Him).
- Angel with flaming sword guarding the entrance may be a way of saying that God will no longer let anyone have access to the Tree of Life in the garden.
These symbols have visual impact that aid comprehension and memory retention.
Whether or not the story contains symbolic elements or figurative people, the essential meaning is clear. Satan's temptation resulted in the first deliberate act of defiance to God – 'the trespass' in Bible study here on Romans 5, trying to take God's place – and punishment was denial of access to eternal life.
Q&A about the story
There are many questions about what happened in the Garden of Eden that require discussion too long for this page, including:
- Who wrote Genesis?
- Who initially recorded the words and events?
- Was Eve the first miracle?
- Was this the first marriage?
- Who sinned first?
- Was Adam doomed to hell?
See Q&A Garden of Eden for discussion of these questions and more.